How much money did the Bank Insurance Fund have on June 30? Only the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. knows for sure, and the agency isn't telling.
The FDIC in years past routinely released the numbers in early August without much ado. This year, however, the bureaucracy has gotten hold of the report and refuses to release it.
When the American Banker asked for a copy early this month, FDIC spokesman David Barr said it must be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
The 10-business-day deadline for fulfilling the request expired Monday, but a call to the FDIC's FOI specialist Barbara Lapitska revealed that the request was still being processed as of Tuesday.
Asked whether financial reports always require an FOI request, Ms. Lapitska said, "In this case, it was determined that an FOI would be required." When asked why, she said, "Because one of the higher-ups said so."
FDIC spokesman Alan Whitney insisted that "nothing sinister" is going on. He said the June 30 report will not be available until mid-September when the agency has figured out how much premium income it must refund to banks. The FDIC owes the industry about $1.5 billion for premiums collected above the required reserve ratio of 1.25%.
Mr. Whitney said the FDIC will not know if it must refund one or two months of premiums until the June 30 call reports are analyzed, a process that will not be completed until mid-September.
The midyear financial report, typically a four-page document detailing the size of the fund, its income, and expenses is usually available for the asking. The delay in releasing it this year has heightened an already testy debate over premiums.
"They are starting to play games with the financial statements," said Bert Ely, president of Ely & Associates in Alexandria, Va. "It's highly suspicious when they stop releasing something that they used to release."
James A. Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers Association, agreed. "It inevitably leads to game-playing and distrust, and that's the worst thing that can happen for FDIC's credibility."
Mr. Ely said he suspects the FDIC is delaying the release because it will show the Bank Insurance Fund was well over the 1.25% reserve level on June 30.
"By not releasing the financials, they are taking away ammunition that bankers could use to complain about the level of the insurance premium," he said.
Bankers, led by the ABA, have complained that the new average premium of 4.4 cents for every $100 of domestic deposits will raise more money than the FDIC needs.